Before I begin…nothing. I backed this game on Kickstarter If you would rather watch a video of this review you can check it out below. Learn more here.
Dungeon Crawls are my kryptonite. Drop a Dungeon Crawl on Kickstarter and I will at the very least hit the remind me button, and do everything in my power to find a reason not to back it. I love swords & sorcery, monsters & heroes, outlaws & whatever pairs with an outlaw.
So when Altar Quest showed up on Kickstarter, I did my best to find all the flaws with it. It had a bazillion minis, “what no orcs or goblins? They have pig monsters, and horsemen?”, it was expensive. Of course I started to dig into the gameplay, and the modular deck system and I was intrigued.
So I went and watched a video or two of Street Masters, which more or less, used the same system. And they got me. I backed it, then when late pledges for Street Masters came up, I backed that too cause I was that excited for Altar Quest. Don’t think too hard about it, the logic totally tracks.
So after the traditional Kickstarter delays, it finally arrived, and its arrival coincided with my wife having to leave town, and a surge in Covid in my area so I found myself with literally nothing to do. So I dove in, over the course of the past seven days I have played the game 10-12 time using about half the heroes, almost all the quests, and most of the villains. I went hard…I even painted some of the minis.
The game itself has all the core elements of any dungeon crawl. You have your heroes, you have your dice, you have your gear, and you have your minis moving about that map, and exploring new rooms. However, where the game starts to depart from other crawls, is that each character has their own deck of cards which comprises of all of their abilities.
Not only does each hero have their own deck, each villain has their own deck, and each group of minions that you are fighting has their own deck, and each quest has its own deck. So even though the shape of the board never changes, you have a constantly changing experience with each game, as it is as simple as swapping out a deck or two to completely reinvent each game. The other aspect of the game that seems fresh is the altar dice system. At the top of the game you will roll the dice, and they stay out on the board for the whole game. However, pretty much every single card in the game has one of the altar symbols on the bottom of the card, which activates if that face of an altar die is showing. You use, it reroll the altar die and move on.
Each round you will start out by all heroes taking 3 actions, in any order that you wish. Actions include: moving; interacting with a feature in the room, such as a cauldron or trash pile; using and action on a piece of equipment or ongoing effect; playing an action card from your hand; using supplies to heal; or changing the altar dice and gaining focus.
Once all the heroes have gone, and drawn a card, the minions activate, then the villain gets a chance to activate-which is either them playing a card from their deck to do horrible things to you, or if they have shown up them trying to kill you dead. Then finally any environmental cards out on the board will activate. Rinse and repeat until you are dead, or you have accomplished the parameters laid out by the quest.
So what do I think?
The modular deck system itself is just a delight. Every hero, villain, and evil doer group plays completely differently. The system works, and it is a delight. Along with that the flow of the turns plays out in a way that is simple enough to follow, but is filled with all the kinds of choices that you could possible want. Along with that I love that every time you roll the dice there will be some kind of a benefit to you. There are no blank faces, there is always something useful.
I also like the world the game has created. I was a little skeptical at first that a fantasy game had no orcs or goblins. Yet I applaud Blacklist for developing this world of pig monsters, and crow beasts, and frog horrors…not to mention everyone’s favorite mercenary Bojack Horseman…I mean Van Geyser. Then the artwork on the cards, and limited flavor text really does a lot to bring this world to life, in a way that makes me wish there was a novel or something set in the universe with these characters.
Next, boy do you get a lot of stuff for you dollars. There are so many cards, and minis, and tokens in these boxes it is almost overwhelming when you put it all out. It is probably good thing my wife is out of town at the moment because I have spread Altar Quest all over our big table for the past week.
However, the thing I like the most about the game is that you truly do feel a sense of adventure and excitement as you play. There is something just delightful about truly not knowing what you are going to face every time you open a door…especially the first time you play a quest and you TRULY have no idea what could be coming. It is awesome. This dovetails nicely into my final point, I think the stories are good fun. It has just enough choose your own adventure, and just enough memorable characters that I keep wanting to go back for more to see what is going to happen.
So, I have all this stuff…and I am already wanting more stories. I have two, one that comes with the core game, and a second that comes with the expansion. I already know that I am going to want more. So that is great! It is also a bummer cause who knows if it is coming. I will put it out to the universe, that I hope Blacklist creates, even just pdfs, of more stories down the road. I would absolutely purchase those, and I suspect many others would as well.
I, perhaps, alluded to it in my previous point, but the non story mode campaigns are not particularly interesting. Yes there is a mode to play a generic campaign, but to me, unless you are creating a story on your own, then there is no reason to do it. Just grab a hero, and give some bonus cards/gear, or some villain upgrades and go to town. The mode just does not compare to the story modes.
Though I like the art, and I like it quite a bit, I cannot help but notice that this game has a stunning lack of diversity. Every human (or near human creature), both good and evil, is white. The only non white characters in the game are ones that are not human. Considering the very solid job of creating a more diverse cast in Street Masters, I cannot help but be disappointed. I feel represented, but it saddens me that if I were to play this with my niece, that she would not feel the same way.
My last issue is the rulebook. It does a great job of explaining the basics. The problem is that there are so many variables in the game, due to the modular system, that there are so many things that simply are not covered. I found myself sending people messages decently regularly, or looking for some forums, or flipping through the entire quest deck comparing text to try to figure out what I am supposed to be doing. The rulebook really needed another editing pass or two, and probably needs some more pages included to cover more. This is not an easy game to sit down and learn the first time, which is a shame because it is actually not THAT complicated at its core.
Bringing it all together
Altar Quest is a very good game. Full stop. If you like dungeon crawls, and unique characters then this is your jam. You get a metric butt-ton of stuff in the box, and you have minis for days, not to mention cool plastic scenery. The art looks great, and the world is fresh and delightful. Everything about the game mechanics are fun, and the game feels like a true adventure filled with discovery. That said, they have missed the mark when it comes to diversity in this game…there is none, and the rulebook, while not a mess, is definitely in spitting distance of being a mess. I cannot remember a time I found myself having so many questions that I could not find answered in the rules. With that said, the game still shines, it has made its way into my top tier of dungeon crawls already.
I would rather play game than read all that
* The game looks FANTASTIC, and you will have more stuff than you know what to do with
* They have taken their Modular Deck System, and made it approach perfection…I am not sure it could work better than it does here
* Truly feels like an adventure, with unique characters, and memorable villains
* The game unfortunately has a complete lack of diversity, which is surprising considering some of their other output
* The rulebook leaves a lot to be desired, I spent a lot of time seeking answers elsewhere
* A truly delightful and memorable romp, easily in my top three dungeon crawlers
|Name||Altar Quest (2020)|
|BGG Rank||1915 [8.26]|
|Player Count (Recommended)||1-4 (1-3)|
|Designer(s)||Adam Sadler and Brady Sadler|
|Mechanism(s)||Cooperative Game, Deck, Bag, and Pool Building, Dice Rolling, Grid Movement, Hand Management, Modular Board and Variable Player Powers|